It is good that Fr Kevin Nichols. as Adviser on Religious Education is trying, among othdr valuable things — according to the interview in your issue of September 27 — to identify hitherto unanswered questions before attempting to draw up a religious curriculum.
What augurs less well for the future shape of religious education is his apparent rejection of the place of comparative religion within religious education. Perhaps the need for brevity induces caricature.
He is quoted as saying: "One of the weaknesses of comparative religion is that we take children on a Cooks Tour of religion • and say 'There you are. Choose what you like.' " Quite apart from the fact that more and more children are embarking on religious Cooks Tours whether we choose to take them or not. it seems that Fr Nichols' statement is based on a compilation of at least two different philosophies of RE.
There are some Catholic educators who believe that the
task of the school in regard to religion is to he sharply .distinguished from, even if it is to be complementary, to that of the home and the Church.
It is the right and duty of parents within the community of the Church, and helped by its various catechetical agencies, to provide for the catechesis of children. The aim here is to encourage and nurture them to a deeper understanding and lived appreciation of their Faith.
On the other hand, in a world growing daily more conscious both of its social, ethical and religious pluralism and the need to understand and tolerate this if it is to survive, the task of the sehool is differently conceived. Education in religion is to do precisely with educating children to an understanding and appreciation of religion as such. This it strives to do by introducing them to the explicit phenomena of religion — the major world Faiths — and by stimulating them to an awareness of their own, perhaps implicit. religious quest. The aim here is education not catechesis or evangelisation. Given such a philosophy, it is careless to talk of Cooks Tours.
In our State schools in creasingly the "R" in RE is no longer equivalent to an undcnominational Protestant biblical and ethical catechesis. If this, the shape of RE in State schools, ever constituted one of the reasons why the Dual System was inaugurated, it is fast disappearing.
The child from a religious background. be it Protestant, Catholic, Sikh or Moslem, together with the child from an a-religious or anti-religious one, is brought rather to an appreciation of the religious dimension. Any child coming to school with Faith should feel secure in the possession of it, and happy to learn about the spiritual homes of others.
It would be folly to ignore or needlessly misrepresent the recent advances in the rationale, methods and aims of RE in nonCatholic schools. The Church has too big a stake in all things educational to remain on the fringe of this particular marketplace. where the debate about the future shape of RE in all our country's schools is going on.
The cost of staying there will be measured by further talk of "Cooks Tours". Ten years after the Council we ought at least to have discovered that our own place is in the educational market-place of this country.
D. A. Jackson, Religious Studies Department, Hockerill College, Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire.